Recently there has been a great deal of media coverage on the emergence of the “blog-o-sphere.” Much of this attention has either been focused on its ability to diseminate information quickly and easily as well as the huge number of personal blog communities that have formed. Equally important has been the emergence of blogging as an educational tool. Educational blogs provide students with another level of interaction outside of the classroom. They also open up students to an amount of content that could never fit into a few lectures. While reading a blog I can click on a related link. This link takes me to more information, as well as more links. By the time I have finished reading, I may have gone to ten different sites and learned about more subjects and found more resources than I was aware existed. Educators and students have the ability to comment on and respond to each others comments. Also, unlike classroom discussions, these conversations are archived and can be looked up again if pertinent in the future.
While blogging is very useful, educators should be aware that it is only one of a few emerging technologies that will hopefully find their way into the classroom. Another such tool is “podcasting.” Podcasting allows the educator to record audio using something as simple as an iPod with the attachable microphone. Students can then subscribe to different podcasts in much the same way that a rss aggregator works. When a new audio file is uploaded, students can download the file and listen to it on their computer, in a poartable mp3 player, burn it to cd, etc.
How can this be put into use in the classroom? Podcasting can be used to give students access to lectures, allowing class time to be dedicated to more interactive classroom discussion and critical thinking. This technology is also useful in giving students access to the minds of leading professionals. While it is not always feasible for speakers to travel to every college that that invites them, it would be quite simple to record a lecture and allow students from across the globe to download and learn from it. An example of this can be seen in Steve Sloan’s interview of SJSU Photojournalism Professor Dennis Dunleavy on the topic of emerging technology in the classroom. I am not pretending to be an expert on podcasting, and what other educational benefits may come from podcasting remain to be seen.
To be fully utilized as an educational tool it must get past certain problems. To my knowledge, there is no way to search the contents of the audio files. With blogs, for instance, a student can search for a specific topic within the blog, and be directed to the correct section of the correct post. While you can search podcasts based on their title, it is not possible to search for anything specific within the audio file. Perhaps a solution lies in somewhere in Microsoft’s OneNote program, which was developed primarily for tablet pc’s. OneNote allows students to synchronize the textual notes that they take with the recorded audio notes. These notes can then be searched through (using the textual notes) without having to replay the whole audio file. The program’s usefulness can be seen in this MSN article in which MIT students were given the opportunity to try the software.
Blogging, podcasting, webcasting, skyping, etc all have huge potential as educational tools. Hopefully educators can find the best possible ways to integrate these into classrooms and improve the amount of resources available to students.